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ANNA BOLENA (G. DONIZETTI) – By Larry W. Fralick, Jr.

by Luca

Historical Background
“One of the most profoundly moving operatic experiences of my life, Anna Bolena suddenly showed me that Donizetti was a musicodramatic creator of far greater power and importance than any of my earlier contacts with others of his operas had led me to believe”,
writes Weinstock in his preface to his Donizetti monograph of 1963. Weinstock goes on to cite this experience as his reason for writing the book. The importance of Anna Bolena to Donizetti’s career is unmeasurable. At first, Donizetti was considered one of the leading opera composers of his time on a more international scope. This opera marks the culmination of his early work; his best opera to 1830. Mayr is said to have called Donizetti “maestro” only after Anna Bolena. While Imelda de’ Lambertazzi was in rehearsal, during the summer of 1830, Donizetti signed a contract with the Teatro Carcano in Milan for an opera to open their carnival season. (The Teatro Carcano was organized by a group of amateurs determined to offer an outstanding season of opera comparable to that of La Scala T s.) On receiving the completed libretto 10 November 1830, Donizetti quickly composed the opera. The majority of the music was written at the villa of Giuditta Pasta (1798-1865) on Lake Como. Pasta, for whom the role was written, undoubtedly contributed to the work. Donizetti revised some of Anna’s music during his stay with Pasta; the autograph shows ornamentation added. Although Pasta ‘s voice was not extremely controlled, her dramatic ability was said to be entrancing, “ … penetrating expression of her singing made even the severest of critics forget any faults of production.” Pasta was a diligent studier, whose career reflected her devotion. Bellini created Norma and Sonnambula for her. Pasta’s experience as a performer surely influenced Donizetti’s score. Donizetti completed the score for rehearsals by 10 December. The one month spent composing was swift but not easy; the autograph reveals extensive revisions. It was important that Anna Bolena score success, especially in Milan. Donizetti’s earlier Milan opera, Chiara e Serafina (1822) was so poor the audience became hostile. Donizetti suffered convulsions after the bad reception. After the great enthusiasm of the premiere of Anna Bolena on 26 December, Donizetti allowed it to be performed for nearly one month before withdrawing it for revisions in January. These revisions involved reworking Percy’s cabaletta in Act I, the cabaletta of the trio in Act II, and numerous deletions ranging from single measures to entire musical periods. By deleting measures and altering (most often shortening) cabalettas, Donizetti pushed the drama of the opera forward more quickly. The suggestion that Anna Bolena represents the culmination of Donizetti’s compositional style to 1830 is supported by the amount of self-borrowing from earlier works. In most cases, Donizetti reworked the borrowed material from Imelda de’ Lambertazzi (1830) , I Paria (1829), Otto mesi in due ore (1827), Gabriella di Vergy (1826), and Enrico di Borgogna (1818). The gift for melody, harmony, and structure are apparent even in the earliest works; in Anna Bolena Donizetti draws from the stronger points of these earlier operas. Felice Romani (1788-1865), the most famous librettist of his time, provided the text for Anna Bolena. It was Romani who found the story and suggested it to Donizetti. Instead of Shakespeare or historical happenings, Romani drew upon two recent plays for his libretto: Marie-Joseph de Chenier’s Henri VIII (1791) in an Italian translation by Ippolito Pindemonte, and Alessandro Pepoli’s Anna Bolena (1788). The story focuses on the plight of Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII, and the intrigue which leads to her beheading. Romani’s text supplied Donizetti with the intense emotions of romance, betrayal, and suffering, all of which sparked Donizetti’s creative genius best. The cast of characters for Anna Bolena:
Enrico VIII, King of England Bass
Anna Bolena, his wife Soprano
Giovanna Seymour, Anna’s Lady-in-waiting Mezzo-soprano
Lord Rochefort, Anna’s brother Bas
Lord Riccardo Percy Tenor
Smeton, Page and musician to the Queen Contralto
Sir Hervey, Officer of the King Tenor
Chorus of courtesans, officials, lords, hunters, and soldiers.
The synopsis of Anna Bolena by the Earl of Harewood is concisely recounted in Kobbe ‘ s Opera Book:
“The first scene of the opera shows the great staircase at Windsor Castle, where a crowd of courtiers discuss the King’s growing love for Jane Seymour [Giovanna], who presently appears, troubled that the Queen should show such solitude to one whom she does not recognize as her rival … The Queen enters, full of sad forebodings. She and the court withdraw. Jane Seymour alone gives voice to her anxiety, but the appearance of the King and his ardent wooing soon remove her doubts … the King reveals that he intends to expose the unfaithfulness of his wife and marry Jane.
A courtyard in the castle. The Queen’s brother, Rochefort, is astonished to see Percy, whom the King has recalled from exile in hope that he will provide the evidence against the Queen. Percy admits that the love he felt for Anne as a girl is not dead even though she is now Queen. Preparations are made for the Court to go hunting, and when the King and Queen appear, Percy’s hopes are encouraged by the Queen’s confusion. The King instructs Hervey to watch Percy’s behavior with the Queen, Rochefort laments Percy’s lack of discretion, and the courtiers are filled with apprehension at the new turn of events.
… In a corridor leading to the Queen’s private apartments, Smeton is gazing enraptured at a miniature of the Queen … He hides when the Queen comes into view with her brother, who is trying to persuade her to grant audience to Percy. When Percy appears, the Queen remains adamant : she is a wife and a Queen and will not listen to his protestations … the Queen refuses to see him again and Percy draws his sword to kill himself, only for Smeton to rush from his hiding place. The Queen faints as Rochefort runs to warn her that the King is on his way, and Henry arrives to catch her in what he purports to find a compromising situation. Smeton’s protestation of her innocence is rendered less credible by the discovery of the portrait he wears around his neck … the King condemns the conspirators to separate cells and orders the Queen to make her defense before the judges, not to him … a vestibule before the Council Chamber, where Hervey tells the assembled courtiers that Smeton has confessed and implicated the Queen. The King passes through and the Queen proudly refutes the accusations … at the same time admitting that before becoming Queen she had loved Percy. The King’s rage and determination to be revenged, Percy’s ecstatic proclamation of his love, the Queen’s regret … are combined as the Queen and Percy are led off … Jane Seymour herself comes to intercede for the unfortunate Queen she both loves and rivals. Her plea avails nothing since Hervey comes to announce the Council’s unanimous sentence of death on the Queen and her accomplices.
In the Tower of London lie the conspirators. When Hervey comes to convey the King’s clemency to Percy and Rochefort, each indignantly refuses to live while the guiltless Anne [Anna] must die.
In the Tower of London the Queen waits for death. She has lost her senses and chides her ladies for weeping on her wedding day when the King awaits her. Her mood shifts from terror to joy and… she thinks she sees Percy smile at her … Hervey comes to order the Queen and the three condemned with her to procede to the scaffold. Anne again loses her reason, orders Smeton to tune his harp and sing to her, then intones a prayer … The firing of the cannon and ringing of bells are heard acclaiming the new Queen, and the opera ends with an impassioned outburst of denunciation from Anne Boleyn.”
Anna Bolena is divided into two acts, as was customary for opera seria to 1830. In the course of the first act, the characters are introduced, and Enrico’s trap for Anna proves successful. The reactions and emotions of the characters are developed throughout Act II to the final outcome. Giovanna, Smeton, and Percy are given the typical two scena ed arias each, while Anna and Enrico are treated somewhat differently for main characters. Anna does not sing the aria di sortita, but does sing the aria finale. The first dramatic scene of the opera is expanded to accommodate the first aria for Giovanna, and aria for Smeton, and a complete scena ed aria for Anna, which ends the first scene. Donizetti extends this scene to build anticipation and focus on Anna, since all talk is about Anna from the opening chorus. The character Enrico has no arias, but long ariosos to develop his evil character. Donizetti includes Enrico in ensembles to further develop the character. The ensemble numbers of Anna Bolena provide the highest dramatic points of the opera. The Giovanna/Enrico duet, the Anna/Percy duet, and the Anna/Giovanna duet reveal important turns in the dramatic action. Giovanna is horrified when she discovers the true ugly nature of Enrico as he pledges to destroy Anna and replace her with Giovanna. The Anna/Percy duet is more conventional as a love duet, but Anna’s innocence and the previous romance are made known. The arioso following this duet includes the successful trap of Enrico. The final duet is the finest, as Anna learns through Giovanna ‘s painful disclosure that her rival is Giovanna. Besides the dramatic duets, Donizetti provides important dramatic events in other ensembles. In the quintet, the feelings of Anna and Percy are all but spoken aloud, supplying ample bait for Enrico’s trap. During the trio, Anna’s anger erupts into insults at Enrico, and Percy divulges his previous romance with Anna. Donizetti obviously saw more dramatic possibilities in ensembles than solo numbers.
Musical Numbers
Sinfonia. The Overture begins with an Allegro-Larghetto introduction followed by an Allegro section which closely imitates the Rossinian design. Instead of a recapitulation of the first theme, Donizetti uses the first theme material for a quasi-development section. The crescendo theme is related to the first theme and recurs later in the opera, in the tempo di mezzo of Giovanna’s aria. A small phrase of the second theme recurs in the recitative of the aria finale when Anna recalls her past happiness with Percy. The first theme of the overture is closely related to introductions of various numbers, especially the scena e duetto for Anna and Percy. These recurring themes are too minimal and brief for significance, but do provide a more cohesive structure for the entire opera. Donizetti did not use them as leitmotives or reminiscent themes, but simple motives he remembered from the opera as he composed the overture.
Introduzione. The original introduzione was Rossinian in structure, but Donizetti made massive cuts in it during the revision of January 1831; nearly two-thirds of the number, primarily the middle section and repeats, were discarded. The men’s chorus begins as an arioso dialogue over a melody in the orchestra and ends with choral statements about Anna’s situation. The revision moves the large introductory scene, which stretches to Anna’s cavatina, forward without tiresome repetitions.
Sortita. Giovanna immediately enters, and, without an introduction, airs her guilt. Although her lyric aria is in A-flat major, Donizetti creates a minor-mode effect by using a lowered seventh scale degree, many subdominant chords, and minor dominant chords. The conjunct nature of the melody is interrupted by Giovanna’s desire to make her love for Enrico “leave her heart” with large leaps at the repetitions of “in sen” (“in breast”).
Scena e romanza. Anna enters with a brief, but majestic dotted-rhythm introduction. During her recitative, tremolo strings and diminished seventh chords prelude her disturbed state. Instead of continuing with an aria for Anna, Donizetti introduces Smeton, who sings an aria to cheer Anna. Dramatically, this is a fine effect, for it brings Anna into the action subtlely and provides reason for her aria which follows. Smeton ‘s romanza is a simple strophic song in which Donizetti uses primarily tonic and dominant harmonies and very little chromaticism. (This aria is easily paralleled with Cherubino singing to the Countess in Marriage of Figaro.) As the third verse begins “Quel primo amor che…” (“That first love who…”), Anna is overcome and interrupts with emphatic repetitions of “taci” (“silent”), accompanied skillfully with subito forte, diminished seventh chords played tremolo. Since her unrest would not leave time for a full orchestral introduction, Donizetti cut the original introduction to one measure for the moving aria “Come, innocente giovane.” This dramatic interruption into the aria was added by Donizetti; no incipit for a third verse for Smeton appears in the original libretto. An extremely well-done dramatic touch was contributed by Donizetti. Interesting revisions of this aria are seen in the autograph. Donizetti creatively alters lines to enhance the melodic line by making it more disjunct and widening the range. These changes reflect the dramatic mind that made them. Anna’s cabaletta is a brilliant showpiece sung to Giovanna. Again, changes are found in the autograph that improve already lovely lines. The reprise of the cabaletta is an exact repeat; Donizetti probably worked out ornamentations with Pasta without including them in the score.
Scena e duetto. The constant pulsing of eighth notes and sixteenth notes represent the anxiety of the duet. Giovanna enters with a recitative and is joined by Enrico. During the arioso, Giovanna’s “ultimo” (“final”) is emphasized with a higher note in her register and a longer rhythmic value. “Fama” (“reputation”) stands out because of its high pitch and sudden rapid descending scale with a fermata over the rest while Enrico ponders. Giovanna’s musical motives at the repeats of “giammai” are the same as Enrico’s motives at “la terra,” showing her persistence at getting his attention. Enrico’s aria is repeated and varied by Giovanna. Another aria follows, using material from the earlier arias. The tempo di mezzo begins as Giovanna cries. Giovanna then sings the cabaletta theme and is joined by Enrico. An unusual musical quote appears in Giovanna’s line during her cadential “ah più rimorsi” (“ah for pity’s sake”) , which is repeated one step higher from the preceding duet at “di un ripudio avrò la pena” (“I will have the pain of rejection”). These lines both occur at repeated cadences, and could accent Giovanna’s fear of the future.
Scena e cavatina. Rochefort and Percy grieve for Anna during the recitative of this conventional heroic number. Donizetti fills the aria for Percy with lyric sadness, usually by means of melodic chromaticism. The descending chromatic scale on the word “tomba” (“tomb”), marked piano and beginning high in the voice, is particularly sentimental. After another verse of the aria, the mood is changed at the tempo di mezzo with a new meter, faster tempo, and rhythmic bounce. The cavatina contains characteristics that must have been strengths in Rubini’s vocal technique. In this cavatina and Percy’s other cabaletta, Donizetti writes various trills and sixteenth notes in descending patterns. The five high d'”s (according to pitch scheme in the New Harvard Dictionary of Music ) were definitely included for Rubini; in the published scores, Donizetti had this number transposed down a step.
Scena e quintetto. Without introduction, Enrico and Anna begin the recitative before the quintet. After Percy enters, Enrico’s distrust is felt in the orchestra’s tremolos and diminished chords as he sings “dell’ innocenza vostra” (“of your innocence”). A long arioso section builds to where Percy kneels to Anna, who becomes visibly moved in the presence of everyone. Anna then starts the quintet with two phrases which are repeated at the dominant by Enrico. All voices enter, stating the main melodic theme as they verbalize their various feelings. Enrico falsely pardons Percy in the following arioso. The final Allegro has no reprise, to avoid dramatic and musical redundance.
Scena e cavatina. The long introduction accompanying Smeton as he secretly enters the room adjoining Anna’s apartments allows the dramatic flow to slow after the intense Quintet. This conventional number features Smeton’ s adolescent infatuation for Anna, but includes a more complicated aria than before, utilizing advanced harmony and melodic chromaticism. Donizetti attaches a short recitative to the end of the cabaletta as Smeton hears someone approaching and hides.
Scena e duetto. After a long introduction, which appears in the first theme of the Overture, Anna and Rochefort enter as she cries “cessa” (“stop”)’ Her persistence is heard as the notes rise. At Percy’s arrival, anticipation is represented in the orchestra with grace notes that accent the leading tone. Percy proclaims the line “sien brevi i detti nostri cauti” (“let our words be brief, guarded, hushed”) on a single note to emphasize their importance and maintain Anna’s attention. The following arioso consists of irregular phrases, describing Percy’s lofty thoughts of love. The most beautiful line translates “you are my Anna, my only Anna”. Anna’s fear of the situation is heard in her short, recitative lines. Anna’s repetition of Percy’s aria is different in music and text, but the calm tempo and serene melody put her more at ease. During the tempo di mezzo, Anna stresses the gloom of the text “in Inghilterra non ti trovi il nuovo albor” (“in England you will not see another dawn”) as it lies low in the voice and is therefore darker in tone. Anna sings the first statement of the cabaletta, followed by Percy’s ornamented version which includes higher notes. (Perhaps Donizetti was more impressed with Rubini’s high range than Pasta ‘s, for her statement could have been changed.) The recitative/arioso section after the duet features Anna singing high a”-flat at “mai più” (“never again”). Percy threatens to kill himself as he sings a long declaimed line on high a’-flat to prove he is as serious as Anna. When Smeton rushes out and Anna swoons, the orchestra plays sweeping sixteenth notes to illustrate her dizziness. The aria Anna sings after she regains consciousness is touching, with dramatic changes in register. A stunning example is the low placement of “sospetto” (“suspicion”) , followed by the next line one octave higher. Enrico effectively interrupts her final cadence, explaining that she would be better off dead. Disjunct recitative lines over tremolo strings contribute to his eerie text. During the sextet, each character expresses his reaction to the situation with discriminating lines.
Finale secondo. In the arioso section, Enrico quickly orders the conspirators to separate cells. After Anna retorts, she bursts into the cabaletta which launches the sextet. Donizetti incorporates a driving, well-accented rhythm in the quasi-choral style of this finale. Percy and Anna are heard over the ensemble, as they sing a distinct melody in octaves. Enrico exits after the first statement, providing Anna with the anger to begin the cabaletta once more.
Introduzione. A customary chorus opens Act II. The ladies-in-waiting sing two full statements to mourn for Anna. Between statements, Anna enters to sing a recitative dialogue with the chorus.
Scena e duetto. Besides the final scene, this duet is the most dramatic number of the opera. Donizetti effectively sets Giovanna’s disclosure to Anna with alternating arioso, recitative, and aria sections. The opening arioso is Anna’s arioso prayer, accompanied with chorale-like chords to create a religious atmosphere. The autograph manuscript reveals that Donizetti struggled with Giovanna’s entrance. Originally, Giovanna was to enter after an orchestral introduction to her arioso, but Donizetti later had Giovanna sing the introductory melody with the orchestra, cutting the following measures. This abbreviation avoids holding up the drama. Anna begins a long arioso and aria in which she curses her unknown rival. The recitative phrase that opens this section sets the angry and vengeful tone. The rhythmic motive of held notes separated by rapid figurations, and large melodic leaps are the striking characteristics of this section. As Anna’s anger builds and melodic phrases rise, so do Giovanna’s interjected pleas. As Giovanna kneels to Anna and admits her guilt, Anna’s aria melody accompanies. Anna is shocked and repeats “tu! tu! mia rivale?” (“you! you! my rival?”) in recitative; the words’ melodic motives are short and breathless. Anna forgives Giovanna during the tempo di mezzo in arioso lines. The final section of the number acts as a cabaletta, but is not in cabaletta form. Although the libretto provides equal stanzas for each character, Donizetti alternates lines of each stanza, acting as the first statement of the cabaletta. Having both women react simultaneously seems more realistic than the conventional cabaletta form. The last statement is sung in the same manner, and the voices finally join for the ending cadences.
Coro. Again, a long introduction provides time for the dramatic intensity to relax after the previous highly moving scene. Donizetti revised this chorus in January 1831, making cuts nearly as significant as in the opening Introduzione.
Scena e terzetto. The smooth character of Enrico’s melody seems to disagree with his opening evil text in the recitative/arioso section of the trio. As Anna passes by and demands Enrico’s audience, she powerfully sings “rispetti” (“respect”) to him, beginning on high g” and rapidly descending a tenth to e’-flat. Anna’s anger mounts as Enrico interrupts Percy’s following arioso, and Anna quiets him with accompanied recitative repetitions of “cessa” (“silent”), which move higher at each repetition. Unaccompanied, Anna then accuses Enrico of seducing Smeton. Percy follows with an aria similar to Anna’s earlier aria; the great descending scale begins on a’ and ends on f. Enrico sings his variation of the same aria, ending with a descending scale from d’ to B. These ending figures expresses the perseverance of each character’s dramatic statement. During more arioso, Percy declaims “sposi noi siam” (“we are married”) without accompaniment, stressing the new dramatic discovery. The trio then commences with Percy, followed by Anna, and finally Enrico. Anna and Percy sing together most often, despite their varying texts. Enrico sings many coloratura passages before he sends for the guards. As Anna notices Enrico’s anger rising, she sings her line with octave jumps to tantalize him and express her own fear. Enrico then condemns them with the declamation “coppia rea” (“guilty couple”) on a-flat that lasts nearly three measures. Donizetti’s characteristic driving cabaletta rhythm is used as Enrico explodes into the cabaletta. The second statement bonds Anna and Percy as they sing the same melody and text. The reprise includes all three voices.
Scena ed aria. Enrico’s arioso which opens this number seems superfluous both dramatically and musically. His text describes anger and astonishment, while the music evokes a pathetic tone, with its sweet, melody and simple harmony. In Giovanna’s aria which follows, she grieves for Anna; the dramatically extreme vocal ranges spans from high a” to low a-sharp within one measure. Rapid coloratura represents her unsteadiness, and a long cadenza at the end emphasizes her line “non mi far di dili” (“do not make me guiltier”). In the tempo di mezzo, Hervey enters to announce that Anna is sentenced to death. His line is clearly understood, declaimed on a single pitch while the orchestra rests. Giovanna pleads with Enrico to reconsider, singing wide intervals to accentuate her wish. She then starts the cabaletta. After her first statement, Enrico orders her to leave, but she remains for the shortened reprise of the cabaletta.
Recitativo, Scena ed aria. This scene is compositionally conventional, but dramatically necessary to reveal the noble intentions of Percy and Rochefort. The information could have been set as an arioso, but the Scena ed aria provides another scene for the tenor. This scene is similar to Percy’s earlier number, with related lines and the same difficult figurations as previously discussed. Donizetti writes this number too high for most tenors; it is transposed down one step for the published edition.
Coro. The Coro serves as the introduction to the lengthy final scene. This women’s chorus consists of two like statements, separated by a brief arioso. The picardy third at the end supplies a subtle transition to the next number.
Scena ed aria finale. This complex scene for Anna is made up of recitative statements with interludes, a lyric arioso, an aria, an extended tempo di mezzo, an aria with choir, a short arioso, and the concluding cabaletta. Donizetti masterfully moves the scene along, as Anna drifts from reality and back, with changes of tempo, mode, and meter. An oboe sets the melancholy mood during the introduction. Each recitative phrase of Anna’s is set differently, to reflect her changing thoughts. Her emotion is felt as her melody builds to high c r”, then descends one octave and a fifth when she describes the flowers on the altar at her wedding to Enrico. After comments from the chorus, Donizetti includes a motive that he will use later in Lucia’s mad scene. Anna fears Percy’s rejection, singing an accompanied recitative which climaxes in the exposed, unaccompanied line “ah! mi perdona, mi perdona” (“ah! forgive me, forgive me”). A full orchestral introduction precedes the aria in which Donizetti incorporates the melody of “Home, sweet home.” The cadenza ending the aria encompasses two octaves. Anna is shaken into reality with the sound of drums, signifying the execution march. During the arioso of the tempo di mezzo, the conspirators melodramatically blame themselves for Anna’s plight, as her mind slips from reality again. Her prayer-like aria ends, followed immediately by boisterous cannon bursts and the celebration band of the King’s marriage to Giovanna. (Verdi later utilized stage bands of this kind.) In a short arioso, Anna regains her senses, singing “mane a solo e versato sarà” (“the only thing lacking to complete the crime is Anna’s blood, and it will be shed”). Only two measures introduce the cabaletta, in order to keep the drama moving. Accents on the upbeat, extreme register changes, and occasional declaimed lines give the cabaletta power and drive. The reprise includes some dramatic alterations, as seen in the opening phrase “Coppia iniqua, l’estrema vendetta”.

B.M., Friends University, 1985
A MASTER’S REPORT submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree
Department of Music – KANSAS STATE UNIVERSITY – Manhattan, Kansas 1988